Sunderland grandmother unable to recover from stress of traumatic fall, inquest hears

A beloved grandmother died of natural causes contributed to by the effects of a fall after she was admitted to hospital, an inquest has heard.

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 7:00 am
Joan Surtees loved spending time with her family and especially enjoyed visiting restaurants with her loved ones.

An inquest heard how the 73-year-old, who lived with a number of medical conditions, underwent surgery to repair her hip under spinal anaesthesia so not to put her through the stress of being put under general anaesthetic.

After initially appearing to be coping well following the surgery, Joan’s condition began to worsen and sadly on July 4, 2020, Joan died in hospital.

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A still from a video taken by Michelle Ritchie as her mother was treated in hospital.

Her grieving family had since complained to the hospital regarding the care she received – especially in her final hours.

Daughter Michelle Ritchie, who attended the inquest with dad Alan Surtees and her husband Neil Ritchie, told the coroner how she feels her mother wasn’t given water and oxygen as she spoke about the final distressing hours with her mother.

It was confirmed during the inquest that end of life care training has since been carried out with staff.

Giving evidence, Dr Jennifer Bolton, pathologist, said the medical cause of death was pneumonia due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and contributory factors included coronary artery atheroma, hypertension and the fracture of the femur.

Joan Surtees, who died aged 73, pictured with husband Alan.

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The pathologist said she would not have expected Joan to have died had she not suffered a fall, but she was still ‘biologically very frail’.

Dr Bolton added: "Her admission to hospital clearly didn’t help the situation – falling over has put strain on an already compromised system. She had so little reserve in all of her organs that simply the stress and strain of falling over and breaking her hip would be enough to knock the balance of those.”

Coming to a short form conclusion that Joan died of natural causes contributed to by the effects of the fall, assistant coroner Karin Welsh said: “I’ve heard the evidence particularly from Dr Bolton and confirmed by Dr Dunbar that your mum, whilst she might have been able to ‘hold her own’ whilst she was at home, that effectively the fall and the trauma of the fracture to the femur and the surgery she needed after that – I think the colloquialism for it would be ‘it was the straw that broke the camel’s back’ it was just that little bit too much for your mum at that time. Sadly she wasn’t able to recover from that.”

Joan and Alan Surtees with her sister Jane-Anne and the Surtees' son, Alan, at a family gathering.

Regarding the issues surrounding Joan’s care that were raised, she added: “If things had been done differently, whilst it wouldn’t have altered the outcome, it perhaps might have meant that your mum would have been a little bit more comfortable towards the end.”

Following the inquest, son-in-law Neil Ritchie said the family had not been happy with the care Joan received in the final stages of her life.

He added: "They’ve said they’ve done some end of life training and care but you shouldn’t have to have a situation like this to make that happen.”

Dr Shaz Wahid, Medical Director at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our sincere condolences go out to Mrs Surtees’ family at this very difficult time. Whilst we are reassured that the Coroner found no issue with the care that Mrs Surtees received, we continue to learn and improve from the feedback we receive from families.”

Joan Surtees, second left with her sisters Martha, Jane-Anne, Edna-May, Sadie and Nobie.

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